Corporate Manslaughter

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Corporate Manslaughter is a relatively new offence to come in to effect under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 which came in to force in April 2008. There have now been several cases and it is certainly something that business owners and directors should be acutely aware of, as by the time an unfortunate scenario occurs it is often too late to mitigate. This is especially important as the penalties for an offence of corporate manslaughter are exceptionally harsh, with the new act giving the courts remit to issue an unlimited fine and force the company to publish details of the conviction causing serious damage to your businesses reputation. You may also be issued with a remedial order forcing your company to remedy any situations which are taken to have resulted in the death, which may also incur significant costs.
The offence of corporate manslaughter is based around a death which is caused by the way a company manages or organises its activities. Recent cases have included construction related fatalities, electrocutions and even accidents involving forklift trucks and banana boats. This is to say that unless all practices are managed in a way to exclude negligence it can often be difficult for directors to know how they can protect themselves against this kind of prosecution, particularly when the circumstances of death are unforeseen.
There are a few primary factors which are required for a successful prosecution of corporate manslaughter, namely:
– That a death was caused by the management or organisation of activities within the company
– This death amounted to a gross negligence on the part of the company
– The gross negligence itself is largely a result of senior managements decisions relating to the organisation of the companies activities
As this shows it is very difficult for a company to mitigate any potential claims of corporate manslaughter after the fatality has occurred, so it is important companies are aware of the new legislation and take in to account any potential risks of negligence incurred by their current practices. It is also worth noting that the offence carries a very wide remit when it comes to what kind of activity undertaken by the company occasioning a death can result in corporate manslaughter. The activities include the supply of goods and services, construction and maintenance or any other form of commercial activities. Based on this, virtually no business will be exempt from prosecution based on the kind of activity carried out which led to the death.
The risk is especially great for small to medium size organisations, especially those with ‘owner-operator’ style management systems, as these are the companies in which it will be easiest to show the negligence resulted from management involvement. The vast majority of recent convictions for corporate manslaughter have been against smaller companies as these often prove far easier to show direct managerial involvement.
By looking at the considerations the jury must make when deciding if the company has been negligent, we can glean some things a company can do to make sure it is as bullet proof as possible to any attempts to prosecute. The jury’s considerations include:
• Whether the organisation was in breach of health and safety legislation.
• How serious the management failure was.
• How much of a risk there was of death occurring.
So by ensuring that all health and safety legislation is adhered to stringently, and trying to ensure an effective and safe system of management a company should be able to deter or defend attempts at prosecution.
However, if your company is likely to face prosecution or you feel you could use more advice on how to deal with the prospect of facing corporate manslaughter charges, contact the Chambers of Andrew Henley, a local barrister’s practice with extensive experience on dealing with homicide matters. We welcome any queries relating to this or other criminal matters.

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